The First Step: Accurate Probe Placement
For best results, insert your thermometer’s oven-safe probe ( a DOT® with a Pro-Series® High Temp Straight Penetration probe [included with every DOT]) into the deepest part of the turkey breast, avoiding bone. You want an even layer of meat above and below the probe so that it’s evenly surrounded by the meat.
Because bones have different thermal characteristics from meat, it’s important to avoid them. For the meat itself, a probe resting against a bone will not provide an accurate temperature reading. Additionally, the bones are not in the bird’s thermal center.
You can now use the probe to monitor the breast’s internal temperature as it cooks. Keep in mind that the temperatures at which the breast and leg should be cooked should differ, but the breast is the one that will dry out if overcooked. So be sure to temp that breast! If you want to learn more about the differences between white and dark meat, read our in-depth post on turkey.
Instant Read Thermometer vs. Leave-In Thermometer
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A thermometer that reads temperatures instantly is known as an instant read thermometer. Most instant read thermometers have a stainless steel probe that is inserted into food and a handle that shows the temperature. (We tried a ton of instant read thermometers in search of the best one, and this one was by far our favorite.)
A leave-in thermometer is equally aptly named: It’s a thermometer that you leave in the meat during the cooking process. Some leave-in thermometers have an analog face and a stainless steel probe. Others are more complex, with an oven-proof wire that connects the probe to a device that sits outside of your oven. (Psssst: This one has more than 2,000 5-star reviews).
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A digital instant read thermometer will display the temperature in numerals, much like a digital watch, so should you get one of those or an analog one? An analog one has a more traditional face, like a clock.
Analog thermometers (like this top-rated one, which is just $11 on Amazon) must be calibrated to ensure an accurate reading. To calibrate your analog thermometer, submerge the stem in ice water and let it sit for a few minutes. If the dial does not read 32°, use a small wrench to loosen the nut behind the dial. Then rotate the dial to the correct temperature.
Related: How to Perfectly Cook a Turkey in the Oven
How Far In Should It Go?
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The thermometer should reach the deepest part of the bird. However, this does not imply that you should cook it all the way through because if you push it too far, you run the risk of missing the middle, which cooks the least.
Actually, the sweet spot is where there is a uniform layer of meat above and below the probe. In other words, meat should evenly surround the probe on both sides.
Is turkey done at 165 or 180?
Hold the thermometer still until the numbers stop to properly read the temperature. The turkey is cooked if it reaches a temperature of between 160 and 165 degrees F.
Where is the best place to check temperature on a turkey?
The deepest part of the breast, the joint between the thigh and the body, and the joint between the drumstick and the thigh are the three places you should take the turkey’s temperature for the best results.